The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, October 20, 2006


A sound approach to school safety

The Mosquito's high school correspondent, Carrie Abend, writes about security concerns at Concord-Carlisle High School in the wake of recent, horrific school tragedies (see page 12). Everyone in our community wants to make our schools as safe as possible, but it is clear quick fixes cannot prevent attacks by outsiders.

An initial suggestion that ID badges be worn by everyone at CCHS is hardly fool-proof. An individual seen in the hallways without a badge is more likely to be a forgetful student than a deranged person bent on destruction and revenge. According to reports on recent school shootings in Colorado and Pennsylvania, the adult shooter acted quickly before he could be recognized by students or teachers as an intruder.

That said, statistically schools are still among the safest places for children and teenagers in our society, according to a new briefing paper called "Safety in Schools" issued by the American Civil Liberties Union. "We have a safe school," said CCHS Principal Arthur Dulong in an e-mail sent to the school community on October 4, two days after the Amish tragedy. "People at CCHS are very conscious of visitors to the building, anything or anyone who seems out of place, and anything that appears to be dangerous."

But the climate of fear driven by frightening news headlines and emotionally charged video clips can lead to restrictions that escalate the fear factor. Some metropolitan schools around the country recently installed metal detectors to monitor everyone entering the building. This is a costly and not always effective approach, and as Abend points out, would not be effective at CCHS with its many doors. Principal Dulong is opposed to metal detectors and "cameras all over the school." He adds, "We do not expect to create a lockdown environment as the school norm."

Abend's article quotes a member of the CCHS community who weighed in on metal detectors: "I don't think it's good for anyone's mental state to have to constantly be reminded of threatening conditions." But unfortunately, that's exactly where we are, even in Small-Town America, and it is frightening for students, their parents and teachers. As unfriendly as it seems, students do have to be aware of who is sharing the hallways with them, just as airline travelers today can't help casting a wary and suspicious eye at their fellow passengers before boarding a plane.

Although lockdowns, ID badges and metal detectors have unfortunately entered the high school vocabulary, it is reassuring that the CCHS administration is responding to security concerns with caution and sound judgment. Seeking wider input from teachers and students should result in precautions that are appropriate to the culture of CCHS while keeping its students as safe as possible.

A republic of some

You gotta love the slogan on the Washington, D.C. license plate: "Taxation Without Representation."

It is no small irony that the U.S. denies the residents of its federal capital a voting representative in Congress. Yet I wonder if that slogan, Taxation Without Representation, isn't also an increasingly accurate metaphor for the state of politics and government in modern America.

Several years ago at a wedding in the Pacific Northwest I met a former chief of staff of a Republican Congressman. We fell to talking about the madness of the Clinton impeachment, the developing results of welfare reform, and the unending pursuit of fundraising dollars which ultimately enrich local and national broadcast organizations using the public airwaves. About 20 minutes into the conversation, he suddenly grasped my shoulders with both hands and exclaimed: "Greg, you need to understand, the American people have no friends in Washington."

Since then, whenever confronted with the latest poltroonery, the convenient avoidance of official duty and change of subject, the high moral dudgeon at the inadequacies of the opposition and the ready reasons for the misdeeds of political colleagues, I remember his words. While one has only to read Mark Twain or Rudyard Kipling to appreciate the durability of official sinning, in the end we do have elections. So, how is it that incumbency so often seems reason enough to return to office individuals who are "representatives" in name only?

I wonder if some of the problem stems from the relatively recent increase in political polarization. Each of the major political parties seems to have been captured by its ideological outliers, often leaving the centrist voter no practical choice at the general election (and in one-party areas, sometimes no choice at all). This wasn't always so. Not that long ago a common, if overstated, complaint was that "there ain't a dime's worth of difference between the Republicans and the Democrats." The parties made decisions about candidates through party operatives, and yes, sometimes bosses. They had a self interest in using common sense. (Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team of Rivals" provides some great examples). In other words, the parties embodied even within themselves the "republican principle" (that is, the representative principle) of Federalist Paper #10. Just as Publius might have predicted, as we have fallen away from representative-controlled political parties, as we have come to rely on "more democratic" primary elections, as we have fueled the demand for campaign fundraising, it has become easier for narrow factions to capture the political parties, their nominees, and eventually state and federal governments.

Today, it's all about "the base." The base provides the footsoldiers, the callers to talk radio, the blog readers and writers, the early fundraising money and the voters in the party primaries. Maybe it's the spirit of the age. We see increasing disintermediation in the economic realm. The loss of market share by general-circulation newspapers and broadcast networks also fits with this picture. Mainstream religious institutions in many traditions have lost ground to a proliferation of smaller groups of fundamentals-focused true believers, in direct communication with the Almighty. I take it as more than a semantic coincidence that "Al Qaeda" means "the base" in Arabic.

Federalist 10 did not promise that a federal, republican-principle-based Constitution would forever preserve liberty, just that it would make it much more difficult for small factions to capture power and then threaten the liberty of all. Our republic seems to be suffering from a raging infection of democracy.


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2006 The Carlisle Mosquito